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3G iPhone launch a decoy

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Comment It's Monday lunchtime, and Apple's online store is still out of iPhones. Left-of-field speculation says this means the 3G iPhone's release is coming sooner than thought. If so, what might Apple have in mind for its Worldwide Developer Conference instead?

In recent weeks, UK iPhone suppliers O2 and Carphone Warehouse have both sold out of 8GB models, following a £100-off price promotion. They also sold out of 16GB handsets, though both admitted late last week that they would be getting more stock in. Indeed, today O2's website is showing 16GB iPhone availability, though CW's site is not.

All this time, Apple has been offering iPhones too. But today, both the UK and US Apple Store websites have the 8GB and 16GB iPhones listed as "currently unavailable". The fact it's no longer doing so, several weeks earlier than anticipated, suggests that stocks really have run down ahead of the introduction of the new, 3G model.

But when is that going to take place? So far, everyone has assumed that it'll arrive in June - a year on from the point at which the first model went on sale. Apple likes anniversaries - for instance, it tends to update the iPod line every year at the same time.

However, the recent spurt of iPhone support announcements from carriers - Vodafone will be offering it in ten countries, SingTel in four - suggests that the next iPhone might be coming sooner rather than later. Why announce a whole month ahead of the anticipated launch?

MacRumours.com has an interesting suggestion. It re-iterates a rumour published by website Switch To A Mac late last month: that Apple will announce and ship the 3G iPhone in May, and Steve Jobs will show off a completely different mobile device at June's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Switch To A Mac's source is said to have strong Apple ties, and to have been right about last year's Mac OS X Leopard delay.

Does the rumour make sense? Maybe. Yes, Jobs used his 2007 WWDC keynote to detail the iPhone's availability, but bear in mind this was arguably because he was unable to talk about what developers really wanted to hear about: Leopard. Mac OS X 10.5's release had just been delayed in order to get the iPhone OS completed in time (Apple said). Leopard was to have shipped in June.

This time round, that pressure is off. Apple has already announced its developer-centric iPhone plans, and has been offering a pre-release version of the iPhone Software Development Kit for some months now.

That implies Jobs might instead seek to engage developers with a new device, as suggested. Past speculation has pointed to handheld gadgetry, either a Mac tablet, a new Newton or a bigger iPod Touch.

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